Q: I am a single mother who works from home. I pick up my 5-year-old from half-day preschool at noon. Since I can’t attend to her when I’m working, she wants to watch TV the rest of the afternoon. We have a no TV rule on school days, but I find myself unable to enforce it. If he’s not watching TV, he’s at my door complaining about being bored. Help!
A: My mother was single for most of the first seven years of my life, during which she worked and attended college. When she was at home, studying or writing, she made it clear that her work was more important than my whims. Did I want more of her attention? Absolutely! Did I suffer because she created and enforced a boundary between us? Definitely not!
In relationships of any kind, respecting boundaries is essential. No relationship boundary translates to exploitation on one side of the relationship and enabling on the other. Too many modern mothers seem to think that enforcing firm boundaries between them and their children will cause children to bleed self-esteem across the land. The moms in question, intimidated by psychobabble to check their authority at the door when they come home from work (or in your case, when you pick up your daughter from school), make one compromise after another with their children.
COMPROMISE: Drop the no-TV rule because your daughter complains—no doubt with great drama—that she’s bored after school.
NO COMPROMISE: Stick to your guns. I assure you that your daughter’s subsequent unhappiness will be short-lived.
1. Make a coat hanger like you find in hotel rooms. Color one side red and the other green. Hang it on the outside doorknob that leads to your home office.
2. With the red side of the hanger on the handle facing out, the message is, “Do not disturb me for anything but an emergency.” Once in a while, if you can (but not more than twice a day), switch the hanger to green and call out, “Green!” This means that you are at her disposal for about 10 minutes.
3. If she disturbs you when the “red light” is on and she is not in an emergency, put her in her toy room for the rest of the afternoon.
4. Regardless, you’ll do something creative together for 30 minutes (a lot of time) every night – draw, color, read a book – and then it’s time for her to start getting ready for bed.
In short, you make a very simple offer to your daughter: Either she can leave you alone for the afternoon and enjoy your freedom, or she can harass you and be confined to her room. Three experiences with the last option (the so-called “spell”) should solve your problem. In the meantime, your daughter will learn how to employ herself, which is one of the most valuable life skills.
(Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at johnrosemond.com; readers can email him at [email protected]; not every question will be answered due to the volume of mail.)
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